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U.S. retail sales pushed forward modestly in November, gaining just 0.3%. That was less than the 0.5% rise that had been forecast by most economists. However, if we back out the volatile auto sales component, to get the so-called core rate of retail spending, we find that this metric was unchanged last month. That was right on target with the consensus.

(It should also be noted that this report, issued by the U.S. Commerce Department, was released at the same time that the Labor Department chimed in with data showing a sharp drop in both weekly jobless claims, to 343,000, and the Producer Price Index, which fell in November by 0.8%.)

As to the retail sales report, it is based on a subsample of the government agency's full retail and food services sample, covering approximately 5,000 retail and food services firms. It should additionally be noted that the next retail sales report is scheduled for release on January 15, 2013.

As to the actual retail survey, while the gain was unimpressive in the aggregate, it was notably better than the October report, which affirmed that such spending had fallen by 0.3% that month. Leading the way higher this past month, meanwhile, were solid gains in sales by motor vehicle and parts dealers. Sales there rose by 1.4%. We also saw an outsized gain in sales at building materials and garden equipment dealers, attesting to the better housing metrics last month. Volume also did nicely at clothing and clothing accessories stores in November, and at non-store retailers, specifically transactions over the Internet. Finally, sales jumped last month at electronics and appliance stores.

On the other hand, sales fell back at gasoline stations, which was not surprising given the drop in energy and gasoline prices last month. A weak energy quotation was the principal reason that the Producer Price Index was off so sharply in November. Also falling were sales at general merchandise stores and department store chains. Grocery store volume also eased in the latest survey.

Overall, the November retail survey was uninspiring, and suggests further that the nation's business recovery, which helped GDP gain a solid 2.7% in the third quarter, is slowing down markedly in the current period--perhaps to as little as a 1.0%-1.5% GDP increase.     

 At the time of this article's writing, the author did not have positions in any of the companies mentioned.